Care for Freeman House Has Been Halfhearted


We are neighbors of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Freeman House. In order to defend USC’s neglect of the house, Dean Robert Timme presented information that was misleading in his Counterpunch article (“Earthquake, Not Neglect, Hurt Landmark,” April 13).

In November and December 1997, rainwater was allowed to puddle on the Freeman House’s interior floors. Despite the media onslaught about El Nin~o, USC waited until January to erect a tent over the house, a circus-like eyesore that obstructs our views but still leaves many areas of the house unprotected: the garage, the patio and outlying walls. This is what Timme considers dry?

This halfhearted effort is typical of USC’s tenure as caretaker of the Freeman House. In the university’s 12 years, why haven’t they restored the house? Other Wright-designed buildings--the Storer, Millard and Ennis houses--have been beautifully rehabilitated.



Yet the Freeman House looks like the site of an archeological dig. Why didn’t they use the money Harriet Freeman left them (some $200,000)? USC charges its tourists $10 head; at 20,000 tourists, that’s another $200,000 that seems to have evaporated.

If USC couldn’t restore the house itself, why hasn’t it found someone who could? Timme makes no mention of individuals, corporations and mentions just one foundation. No, instead Timme holds the Freeman House hostage, as he plays high-stakes “chicken” with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

What would Harriet Freeman say, if she could only see her beloved house now--uninhabitable, falling down, a drain on the neighborhood’s property values, a threat to the neighbors’ physical safety (as the blocks fall off) and certainly soon to be a magnet for crime, as most abandoned buildings are.

Soon, all that will be left will be photographs, drawings, of an architectural treasure, a hole in the ground and Timme’s whining rationalizations.








When we met with Timme last fall, he said the university would like to see the house turned over to an institution or private party able to restore and maintain it for posterity. Later, we were told that the house could not be given over to another entity because the FEMA funding the university hoped to receive as a result of damage sustained in the Northridge earthquake was nontransferable. Now we are told that the FEMA grant must be refused because it is insufficient to rehabilitate the structure.

Many in our community, including architects, preservationists and even Los Angeles Councilman John Ferraro, have offered their time and services to help rescue the Freeman House. Yet, thanks to what must be perceived as 12 years of paralysis at the university, the house remains a decaying, uninhabitable structure wrapped in beige plastic.

We would like to see USC accept the FEMA funds, stabilize the structure as fully as possible and then give the house away under the condition that the new owner will make a full restoration of the house in a timely fashion.

USC needs to act immediately. The house can’t wait another 12 years.


Hollywood Heights Assn.

As a structural engineer in my fifth decade of practice, I found Timme’s Counterpunch rather remarkable in its revelations about the difficulties involved with the Freeman House.

Off and on, for the past 15 years, I have been involved with the repair of the Ennis-Brown House, built by Wright on a hillside in the Los Feliz area, which also is gradually deteriorating but not primarily because of earthquakes. As the dean acknowledged, he is new in California, so I would like to offer a few comments.


First, there are many competent structural engineers in Los Angeles, and it is unlikely that the engineering fee would affect the cost of the project.

Second, the 50% provision quoted by the dean from the 1991 Uniform Building Code about hazardous buildings was in effect in Los Angeles long before the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

Third, the building code is subject to interpretation, and many different opinions of its provisions are questioned, but if an engineer presents a reasonable solution within the intent of the code, the dotting of the I’s and crossing of the Ts will become redundant.

Fourth, I’m puzzled that engineers were hired only to write a report to determine the extent of earthquake repairs needed, whereas preparation of structural plans would cost little more. It seems a foregone conclusion that any of Wright’s concrete-block dwellings will need repair by virtue of the era in which they were built and the rudimentary construction procedures in Los Angeles at that time.

The obvious problems for Wright’s hillside dwellings are the poor soils and his practice of making his own masonry blocks, which have crumbled away over the years. Ironically, one of Wright’s frame houses in Barnsdall Park was condemned and demolished 40 years ago because of soil failure.

As for FEMA and the Office of Emergency Services, both are political concoctions and should be dealt with on that basis. The other architectural barriers are negotiable.

Finally, as the dean probably knows, USC is not the only institution requesting funding from FEMA, so if I were he, I would take the filthy lucre and run, but I do think the allocation of the FEMA money is out of kilter and illogical and deserves more intensive review.


Los Angeles